Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Reading Scripture is a truly Christian Event

I remember my undergrad days in Bible College; one of the perennial questions (at least during our pneumatology section/semester) was:  If indeed the non-Christian, un-regenerate person could access and interpret Scripture in a way that appreciates the point and depth of Scripture? Or, could they understand the primary signification that the Scripture's ontology rises from; viz. Jesus Christ.

Jesus Christ God's Son Savior
We had some profs who would argue that clearly there are non-Christian biblical students and exegetes who can offer exegetical insight into the text of Scripture. But to me, this was always skirting the question. The question isn't if the non-Christian can 'offer exegetical insight into the Text,' but if that same person can understand and 'know' what in fact is significant about Scripture's primary intention; i.e. to tell us about, and invite us into an intimate and ongoing-evergrowing relationship with God in Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit.

So the question that I was usually interested in was on what has been called in the Christian Tradition, illumination. John Webster offers a good word of knowledge (for all my charismatic brothers and sisters ;-) on this:

[C]orresponding to the perfect and wholly sufficient work of the Son in the redemption of fallen creatures, there is a further mission of God in their regeneration and restoration to intelligent, consensual, affective and active fellowship with God. This is the mission of the Holy Spirit, by whose grace it comes about that there is a company of creatures in whom redemption is brought to full realisation in the renewal of creaturely nature. The Spirit ‘perfects’ the work of the Son by bringing his work to its creaturely term, manifesting its virtue, distributing its benefits, and establishing a creaturely subject to receive, know and act out of its grace. The renewal of creaturely nature includes renewal in the knowledge of God, for the Spirit is ‘the spirit of wisdom and of revelation’ (Eph 1.17). This work of the Spirit is the environment for a theology of revelation, and therefore of Holy Scripture as its prophetic and apostolic form, and therefore of the illumination of the regenerate mind for the reading of Scripture. The Spirit is given that, having the eyes of their hearts enlightened, the saints may know. [John Webster, Journal of Reformed Theology 5 (2011) 325-340, Illumination, p. 328-29

Webster, would answer, in a dogmatically nuance way---answer my question---that it is not the prerogative of the non-Christian to 'know' what Scripture is about, because Scripture is about Jesus Christ. And if the non-Christian by definition (Rom. 8.11) does not have the Spirit of God in Christ; then they, like the Pharisees (Jn. 5) can get at the 'letter' of the Scripture. But they certainly cannot get at the 'Spirit' of the Scripture, sense the Spirit is absent; de facto Christ is absent (for them), because Christ did not come without the Spirit, but with the Spirit full of grace and truth.

The conclusion is that the non-Christian cannot truly engage in biblical hermeneutics, given Scripture's ontology and situadedness from the Spirit's breath, and the Son's humanity; both of these realities being absent, by definition in the non-Christian's life. Clearly the non-Christian exegete can do lexical and syntactical analyses of the Sciptures, etc. But, again, given the dogmatic ordering of things (and Scriptures placement within that through the analogy of faith etc.); they cannot do Christian hermeneutics which flows from the Spirit's authorship of Scripture (through the humanity of Christ and the sending of the Prophets and Apostles), and the corresponding authorship of human salvation in and through Christ. The one correlates to the other; in short, if you don't know the author's intent, then you can't truly appreciate what the author intended and meant (means). Reading the Bible is a truly Christian event. 


  1. I believe this is pertanent(?): For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, 'the just shall live by faith'.
    How could anyone understand Scripture without faith? They could not, any more than I could understand Qur'an without faith, if it was true, or the Book of Mormon if it was true.

    1. Duane,

      I think there is a distinction between understanding and entering into. I think anyone with the proper training can 'understand' the Bible, the Qur'an, the Book of Mormon etc. I don't think just anyone can "enter into" the significance of the Bible w/o the Spirit. The Qur'an and Book of Mormon don't count or are not parallel because they are false (or not true), and thus the analogy between them and the Bible don't correlate.


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